Yesterday I drew a very big, rather rare night moth, called the death’s head, its colouring of amazing distinction . . . I had to kill it to paint it, and it was a pity, the beastie was so beautiful.
--Vincent Van Gogh
The flapping of night-wings by a fire,
a rattling in the skull,
a moth, its wings cloudy white,
tinged carmine and faded green:
all is captured in a sigh of pity—
beauty must hold still to be seen.
And what is death to the dead
when art gives wing to the living,
when what was gauzy and frail
presses its form to imagination’s
human shores, there to be held,
foam swept through quick passing days,
there to withstand the turning of seasons?
The leaves will be green again,
brown again, gold, and green again.
The leaves will be red.
Red, and the death’s head moth still flutters,
steadfast, swept beyond the joy and danger
of a shift in wind.
Artist, have you learned the moth?
You are more alike than you can see.
Not in the way a night can swarm to flame,
but like a gust of stars
breathless with foretelling—
the markings, like the lines
that streak your palm, tell of leaves
pressed into a book. Their color fades.
They rot. They leave behind
an imprint on the page.